2014 ORAMM Part 3

Yeah, I packed my angry eyes, just in case. And it was a good thing I did. You never know when you are going to need them.

Leaving Aid Station 3 you are on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road goes up and around a corner. I fully expected when I got around that corner I would have a nice long downhill section on the parkway. But what I had not realized from just looking at the race profile was that Aid Station 3 was not at the high point of the race. Nope. 3 more miles of climbing to get to the top.

Angry eyes.

angry_eyes2

I put my head down and spun.There was nothing else to do.

At one point I heard a couple of bikes coming up behind me, fast. Crap. But it was two guys on road bikes riding the Blue Ridge. Keep YOUR tempo Meat! OK Yeti.

I finally crested the top part of the course and was rewarded with 3 miles of paved downhill. It was one of two times during the race that I really got into a tight aero position. 40+ mph. A glorious free 5 minutes of riding.

The profile has a short climb on it to the top of Heartbreak Ridge. I was feeling good at that point because I knew the race was mostly downhill to the finish from here. Yeah there was the second Kitsuma climb, but I knew I had the finish in me.

Then another surprise. The course turned off the Blue Ridge onto a “trail”. This one didn’t even pretend to be something you could ride. Straight up. No switchbacks.

The call came from behind me: “Time for the next hike-a-bike boys.” F ‘k!

This year for ORAMM they added an “Enduro” race section. Enduro is basically a downhill race that you do on regular mtb’s (as opposed to downhill specific mtb’s, with body armor and full face helmets). In endurance races they usually add this section as a race-within-a-race on a challenging downhill section of the course. They time how long you take to get down, fastest time wins. I didn’t have a shot and so I pretty much ignored the race-within-a-race.

Heartbreak is easily the most technical long downhill I have ever done. It was rocky, rooty, narrow and in places very steep (just as advertised by Drew). Following the advice I was given going up Curtis Creek I walked the off camber rooted section. I stayed back and low on my bike. Heavy feet, soft hands. I tried to let it run. About half way down my brakes stopped making the really cool disk brake sound and went into metal on metal sounds. I was wearing out my pads, quickly.

By the time I got to the bottom my hands were numb from the jarring. What I really wanted to do was shake them off, but there was no place to take a hand off the bar for the entire descent.

I had one minor fall, but no real damage. Safely out.

At the final aid station my crew was there. My entire crew. This came as something of a shock, let me explain. Dave’s family were there crewing with my gang. Dave had instructed his family to leave the last aid station after he went through so that they would be at the finish when he got there. I think he was expecting to be far enough ahead of me that they would not have time to stay at the last aid station to see me and then get to the finish. I was expecting to only see Coreen and my kids.  But when I got there, my family was there and surprisingly so was Dave’s.

I looked at my sister-in-law. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the finish?”

“Dave just left here, like minutes ago.”

“How many minutes?”

“Just a couple.”

Holy sh!t. I was close. Closer than I thought I would be.

New bottles. A quick coke. A cold water. An icy went washcloth to wipe my face down with. Off I went.

By this point I was regularly passing people who were on the side of the road cramping. My anti-cramp magic is Jelly Belly Sport Beans. It seamed like a good time for some prophylactic medicine so I ate a pack of beans.

I knew that the second time up Kitsuma was going to be painful. Legs and I reached an agreement. We would go at a pace we could sustain. If I had to walk some of the single track at the top I would. In return Legs would not cramp and would spin at the cadence I needed. I walked the first couple of switchbacks, rode the rest and crested Kitsuma. The second time down was a lot of fun. This was my 3rd time down and I knew the flow a little bit. There were not many people with me so the trails were wide open. Tired or not it was my fastest descent. I exited the trails and hit the road for the final 5 miles of the race.

The finish of ORAMM is WAY more civilized than the finish of Leadville. It’s downhill! My only concern now were the race directions. A couple of days before the race we got our race directions. One direction stood out at this point. One direction.

“Just when you thought it was all pavement back to the finish after Kitsuma, we’ve added in a stretch of singletrack just before you get into downtown!”

Dear God, (they say there are no atheists in foxholes, I think there are not any at the end of an endurance race either) please let that direction be a joke. Please no more single track.

The approach into town is a 4 or 5% downhill paved road. I was in my tuck for the second time in the race, 35+ mph. (It’s remarkable how strong your legs feel when you have gravity working with you instead of against you!) I was looking for a marker to take me off the road. It came with about half a mile to go at the edge of town. We were directed off the road and onto a grass trail next to the road. “Single Track”. I smiled. Yes!

I stood and pedaled hard. Then I was across the finish line. Two hands in the air.

The clock read 7:10.

Coreen was at the finish waiting for me.

“You didn’t collapse! Put your bike over there, Dave’s in the river cooling off.”

One of the best things about ORAMM is the finish line is right next to a shallow river. The river was filled with riders cooling off. Dave was in there with some of his Florida friends.

dave_oramm_river

(Dave is in the upper left of the picture.)

In I went.

In the end I finished ORAMM in 7 hours and 10 minutes. Dave finished in 6 hours 59 minutes and 55 seconds. He made his goal of a sub-7 hour finish. Barely, but he did it.

I never caught up with Dave in the final part of the race. In truth, I would have probably had to pass him on the climb to Kitsuma to beat him to the finish. The final descent of Kitsuma was really devoid of traffic and so you could rip it. Dave’s better at that than I am…. Or is he?

I got a message from Dave on Tuesday that the results were up. Yeah, Dave beat me in the race. But, BUT…. I beat him in the Enduro race. Turns out I was 7 seconds faster on the race-within-a-race. Neither of us were particularly fast, but I was faster :) So strangely Dave won the GC race and the Bohl Yellow Jersey, but I won the technical race and the Bohl Green Jersey. I do not think either one of us would have predicted that outcome.

At 7:10 I was the 192nd racer to cross the finish line. 372 people finished. They didn’t list how many dnf’d. The race sold out in January at 500 entries. You can do the math. BTW. The course was extremely fast this year. The conditions were perfect. Tacky sticky single track. No mud. No rain. There was cloud cover which kept the temps down just a little bit. The course record was shattered this year and now sits at 4:23. ( After you do that math, its almost 15 mph for an average speed.)

How do I assess my race? Well, no cramps no stomach issues. Win there. No serious crashes. Win there too. One of the biggest things I learned at Leadville last year was to take a race piece by piece. That really came in handy. A long race is big if you try to think about it in it’s entirety. Take it one section at a time and its more manageable. I really didn’t feel like I had my best legs in this race. But my lesson there is that if I am feeling weak or tired, well chances are other people are too. It’s not me, it’s the course. A good lesson I think.

As always its the people who make the races fun.

Climbing and chatting with people up Curtis Creek. We went past some locals “camping” on the side of the road. I called out: “I bet they have beer!” Everyone had a good chuckle.

Going up “small little nothing climbs” with locals.

I rode the last climb and descent of Kitsuma with a guy named Ed from Georgia. We got each other through that torture. He was cramping so I coaxed up on the ups. He was faster down and pushed me in that direction. He finished 30 seconds ahead of me.

I was asked which was harder Leadville or ORAMM. They are so very different it is hard to say. To be fast at Leadville you have to be physically strong and mentally tough. If I had to describe Leadville in one word I would say “tempo”. To be fast at ORAMM you have to be physically strong and techincally good. If I had to describe ORAMM in one word it would be “edgy”. You have to ride right at the edge of your skills. I felt more physically beat up (i.e. sore) after ORAMM. My bike was more beat up after ORAMM too. I checked last night, I burned a pretty fresh pair of brake pads during the race. I was more physically drained after Leadville.

I would love to do ORAMM again. Next time though it will be with more confidence in my riding. There is time on the course for me there.

2014 ORAMM Part 2

Once the pack finally got rolling it was time to think a little bit about the race. The profile for ORAMM looks like this:

ORAMM-Elevation

The first test of the day is the Kitsuma climb. From the start the first 5 or so miles are paved, it switches to gravel, and then ends with about half a mile of steep switchback single track.

I decided that I was going to try to hang on to the front pack on the pavement. I knew that the racers would not be really spread out by the time we got to the single track and I wanted to be closer to the front than the back where the less skilled riders would be. I figured I could hang with the good riders on the switchbacks and didn’t want to get stuck behind people who had to walk that from the start. On the downhill, yeah I would be slow, but Kitsuma was pretty wide and so people could pass me.

Dave and I pre-rode this climb earlier in the week. I knew that the road/gravel was not really very steep and so I could put a good tempo into it. I stayed with the front pack. On the back, but with the front pack.

The switchbacks were fun. Steep but with good spacing so they were completely ride-able. One of the local guys was saying “It’s only a small hill no problems here”. Up we went.

The descent on Kitsuma is where you learn that ORAMM is not really at all civilized. The “descent” has climbs on it. If you look at the profile closely you can see the biggest one. But there are probably 3 or 4 other sharp kicker climbs. (I will note for the record that none of the climbs had and level or negative grades on them. NONE OF THEM.)

The riders were all still close to each other and so the decent was at times slow and frustrating as I got stuck behind people who could not descend very well (I may not be good at descending, but I was far, far from the worst). The course had dried out considerably since the pre-ride on Monday and the trail was really nice and tacky. Eventually we got to the bottom and shot out into the park and then back onto the road.

Here is the video I shot from the pre-ride on Kitsuma. I should say that Dave and I were a little conservative on the pre-ride. It was really slick and we didn’t want to break anything before the race.

I headed to aid station 1.

The Team Bohl super crew is a well oiled race machine. The pit stops are much like you would see at a nascar race. I pulled in. Noah grabbed the bottles from my cages handed me two new ones to replace them with. Coreen gave me a bottle with ice water that I chugged. “How you feeling? You need and gu?” Off I spun. 30 seconds later.

Dave and I rode a little bit of Star Gap the day before the race. It was enough of a look to see what torment that would be. The hike-a-bike started right at the bottom of the Star Gap climb with a giant bolder/root combination step to get over (we would have to get down this later in the day as well). “It’s only a small hill” guy was still behind me chiming away. I got off my bike to go up the bolder. He got off his bike and climb up as well. “I thought this was a small hill, no problem?” “Didn’t want to show anyone up and make them feel bad” he replied with a big wicked grin on his face. I returned the smile.

The switchbacks on Star Gap are much tighter and more technical than on Kitsuma and there was still a good bit of congestion. I was forced to walk a number of them. I tried to mount back up on my bike when I had a chance and walked when I needed too. We all pretty much went the same pace walking, riding or walking and riding. It was a leg sapping climb and I realized I didn’t have my best legs that day.

There is a little bit of fire road climbing after the Star Gap descent and then a gravel descent to the second aid station. I felt like I was being passed more than I was passing, but I couldn’t really tell.

Team Bohl moved to aid station two and again performed flawlessly. New bottles, another ice water to chug. A quick coke. “How do you feel?” “Crappy.” “Well this next part is what you do well. Climb strong.”

The crux climb of this race is the Curtis Creek climb. It’s over 3200 ft and 11 miles. The grade is pretty mellow for the first couple of miles then it becomes more sustained 10+%. Finally in the last mile or so it tapers off a little bit near the top.

I was with a couple of riders at the start of the climb and we had a nice chat for about two miles. One guy said we were on a 7 hour pace. I didn’t really know what that meant in the greater scheme of things, but he said it would be his personal best and was a really good time. (Note I learned later that the ORAMM equivalent to the Leadville “big belt buckle” time is under 6 hours. You get a bottle opener if you do this. So a 7 hour pace is pretty respectable.) I also got some advice about the Heartbreak Ridge descent. Something about a fan of roots about a mile down on an off camber corner. The advice was walk it or crash. Yeah! Then the climb got serious and people stopped talking.

My approach to a climb like this is to get into a comfortable cadence and spin my way up the hill. I try to keep my effort as level as I can. Whatever speed I can manage I manage. I do not worry about what other people are doing.

The climb was long. I passed some people. Some people passed me. I saw probably 4 or 5 racers who had cracked going back down the hill to SAG out at aid station 2. Mentally that was the tough part. It would have been so easy to turn the bike downhill and glide back to the station. The guys who were doing that looked to be buff  and in shape. I wondered what had happened to them. But I kept turning the cranks. 3 miles to aid 3, 2 miles to aid 3, 1 mile to aid 3. Aid three! Top of Curtis Creek. Time to get a coke.

“We are out of cups.” WTF?

“I can put some in a bottle for you.”

“OK, here.”

“Tell me when.”

“When the coke reaches the top of the bottle!”

I got back on my bike and turned onto the Blue Ridge Highway.

Then I put my angry eyes on.

toy-mr_-potato-head-deluxe-8

2014 ORAMM Part 1

oramm_sign

When I signed up for ORAMM this year I talked with my coach about the race, he said it was a great race. He told me there were long, steep climbs mostly on fire roads and two tracks. Some single track climbing and a couple of hike-a-bike sections. OK I am good with that. He then described the downhill as “check your fear at the top, narrow, steep and technical”. Umm………Here this was in the race packet.

oramm_blue_ridge

Umm….Yeah. That sounds like a fun organization to do a race with right?

ORAMM is in some ways quite a civilized race. The start is at 8 am. Wow that beats the 6 am Leadville start by a lot. The temps were in the 70’s. Which is a whole lot better than the 32F that I experienced at the start of Leadville last summer. This was tempered by the fact that the forecast temps for the day had steadily risen as we got closer to race day till they were forecast to top out in the mid 90’s the day before the race. Distinctly not North Country weather. The 8 am start meant that my brother and I could leave the hotel at 6 am, get some breakfast and still be to the race venue before 7 am.

Given the stomach issues I had at Whiteface this year I really wanted to make sure I had the right breakfast, early, and was able to “clean out my system” properly before starting. The right breakfast? Pancakes! It was a great thing to go into McD’s and see “600 cals” written next to my pre-race fuel. Down the hatch.

Being nervous for a race has one great benefit. Yeah it makes the whole sleeping thing a little more exciting and you have that voice in your head going off telling you all the bad things that can happen (Been missing you this summer Meat. Howdy Yeti, been missing you too!), but there is one great thing that can outweigh those problems. It helps to promote pre-race cleansing.  My stomach was in knots, my body cleansed.

Time to line up. Wait no, time for a pre-race selfie.

oramm_preselfie

No blood. No broken bones. Bike in tip-top shape. Neapolitan Fatty Kit for my first sponsor. And my splurge for the race. New socks.

oramm_socks

In homage to my second, newly acquired second sponsor JenniHoops.

The Team Bohl super crew was prepped and on their way.

I was ready to rock.

My brother Dave had a bunch of friends up from Florida for the race and so he went to find them to say hi and get a team picture. Mean while I lined up somewhere in the middle of the pack. Dave lined up closer to the front, he had a specific time goal, I had a more relaxed goal (not killing myself).

The gun went off and we clipped in and started to ride. And then jammed on the brakes, unclipped, and stopped. And then clipped in and started to ride. And then jammed on the brakes…well you get the idea. Mountain bikers, in a pack, on pavement. Sheesh.

ORAMM Update Part2

Well ORAMM is in the books. Today and tomorrow are travel days to get home. Then I need to write up the race report (Still deciding how many parts this one will take). So you will have to just wait.

For now. Big shout out to  Curtis  Greg (Sorry my mind erased some details!) who I met at Willmington and rode with for about 30 seconds on Sunday morning. Curtis rocked it with a 6:15 (ish) finish time.

As Curtis Greg said below, it is understandable why that name was burned into my memory. You’ll understand soon enough (if you haven’t experienced it directly).

ORAMM Update

I have a nice video of the Kitsume downhill all set to view. BUT the internet at our timeshare is quite possibly the slowest I have ever encountered. YouTube told me it would take over 10 hours to upload. So you are just going to have to wait a day or so to see what the riding is like here. (Well unless you are in the race, or have done the race, or happen to have ridden here, then you know.)

It’s looking like the course will be on the wet side, but hopefully not soupy. It’s been raining here a good bit this week, and the humidity is so high, nothing seams to dry out. I think that 500 bikers will splash some of the water off the course.

Anyway, while you are waiting for me to get to some faster internet A story for you….

Remember the Whiteface race this year? Remember how I passed a cross bike with an exploded pedal? (It wasn’t a cross bike by the way. But you will have to read to see what it was. In my quick view I saw drop handles and thought cross…) Well I got a comment yesterday on this very blog, from that very person. Here is the story of the exploding pedal. Enjoy.

I am heading out for a very very light ride.

ORAMM – The Road Trip

Greetings from Lake Lure North Carolina. Lake Lure is close to Asheville, a crunchy little oasis in North Carolina. And probably for the sake of the next couple of days of posts, close to Old Fort North Carolina, home of ORAMM. (That stupid little ticker just keeps counting down……)

North Carolina is an “interesting” place.

They have cheap gas (we drove). Very nice.

They also had a tattoo parlor in the truck stop. No one in my family chose to utilize that service. But rest assured, there was a line for a truck stop tattoo (no I am not joking).

They have mountains.

lake_lure_mountain-1

(That’s the view from the timeshare we are staying in.)

They (apparently) have rules.

lake_lure_bailey-1

Bailey was the first to see the rules. And of course needed to get out the soccer ball right then and there. The bike riding thing is going to be a problem as well (since we are here for a bike race and all!). I broke that rule about an hour after we got here…..on a nice piece of single track…..on the timeshare property. North Carolina also has confusion.

They don’t have sushi (well in Lake Lure anyway). But that’s OK. On the way down we stopped in Annapolis to visit friends and eat at Joss (our favorite sushi place). Annapolis has sushi.

joss_before

Well Annapolis has a lot less sushi since we visited…

joss_after

Sushi is very serious business in my family. As you can see the boat was decimated by my pirate children and our friends.

But back to North Carolina. Besides mountains, right now they also have mud.

kitsume_preride

Well they have mud, but also they have red clay. Try an experiment. Grab a slab of clay (the standard grey clay is OK, the physics here are the same!). Get it wet. Feel the traction you get. Now bike on that. But just to make it “fun” bike down a hill on that. Welcome to ORAMM.

The picture was taken at the bottom of the Kitsume section. Dave and I pre-rode that portion of the course. Here an elevation profile will help.

ORAMM-Elevation

We rode from the mile 2.5 to mile 12.5 section. It was about 3000 ft of climbing. You can extrapolate the rest. (BTW. Did you notice we get to do that twice in the race. VERY exciting!)

That climb was very do-able because in North Carolina (unlike in Leadville) they also have OXYGEN!

Today we are planning on pre-riding the Blue Ridge Parkway and down “Heartbreak Ridge”.

And to close, they even have birthdays in North Carolina.

Happy Birthday to my awesome wife Coreen. Who turns the perfect age today!

ing_corral-1

Irritated

I went to pick up my bike from the shop this afternoon. The bike that I dropped off on Sunday for some maintenance. The bike that they told me would be done yesterday. The bike that wasn’t done yet today. The bike that is being packed up to go to a race tomorrow morning, early. The bike I am going to have to go back to town later today to get.

I try to support by local bike shop when I can. We have two in my town. Right now I am irritated with both. One shop, where I have made most of my purchases (read I have bought more than one, not inexpensive, bike there) has an owner who is sometimes “grumpy”. When I went in there earlier this week to see about some bearings for a headset I was lectured to about how I need to be specific about what I need and how unhelpful it is to come in and ask questions about stuff when I don’t have those details. (BTW, the bearings I needed for my headset only have one size, I know I checked before I went down.) We could have had the same conversation in a more helpful and friendly way. I didn’t go back to get the bearings for my headset. (He also was short with my brother when my brother was up for the Wilmington race and needed an emergency bleed for his brakes.)

The other bike shop is an all around outdoor store. They do bikes, canoes/kayaks, camping, climbing, etc. They do sell a lot of bikes and have a bike shop. That’s where my bike is now. Part of the reason I took it there is the other LBS is old school and this bike is decidedly not old school. But seriously, the bike has been there for 5 days now. Just a brake fluid change and two new cables. They know I am leaving tomorrow and they know I am going to a race.

Irritating.

I think that once I get back from ORAMM I am going to learn how to service my hydraulic disk brakes myself. Time to become truly  self sufficient. (Now if I only had a headset tool…….)

5:30 pm: Update. I am home now with my bike. When I got to the shop the second time today to get it it was being worked on. My rear brake was not bleeding properly and was mushy (thats why I brought it in. Periodically it would just not engage). We determined that there was a leak in the cylinder somewhere. The person who was fixing the bike went home and got a rear brake off of one of his bike so that I had something to race while we try to get mine warrantied. I am VERY appreciative of that. I do wish that they had gotten to my bike before today so it wasn’t so much of a fire drill to get it up and running. Brenden did a nice job today, they need more staff.